Columns, Opinion

SELIBER: Smells like dead elephant

The 2008 presidential election takes place on Tuesday, but it has been over for so long that we have since entered the period of Wednesday morning quarterbacking the whole process. A win by Sen. Barack Obama on Nov. 4 will no doubt unleash a hornet’s nest of new and exciting realities about the nature of American politics, many of which will be quite positive for all parties involved.
For the time being, however, I want to reflect on a more melancholy fact of our political system that Tuesday’s returns will surely suggest: The effective death of the Grand Old Party, the Republicans.
Two years ago, the 2006 midterm elections saw the ascendancy of Nancy Pelosi’s Democrats, the 12-year minority party that finally gained enough seats in Congress to regain the majority. The 2008 election will not question if the Democratic majority will hold, but rather, by how much will it grow. Some analysts think the party could reach 60 Senate seats, the coveted filibuster-proof super majority that would ensure Democratic dominance for at least two years but probably much longer.’ Where does that leave the lowly Republican minority? In the ash heap of history, I’m afraid.
Yes, that sounds like an overstatement. After all, both the Republicans and Democrats have survived ‘wilderness’ periods before ‘-‘- the GOP between the election of Franklin Roosevelt and the disintegration of Lyndon Johnson, the Democrats from the comeback of Richard Nixon until the withering of George Bush.
The difference is that the Republican Party, in the twilight of its reign, has slowly strangled itself by pulling back from every principle it once stood for. Rather than hold their ground and wait for popular opinion to sway in their direction, contemporary Republicans opted instead to hold power by any means necessary and figure out the principles thing later. The GOP philosophy used to be simple: Government will guard your money, protect the homeland and stay well away from your personal affairs. Their ultimate legacy? Spend like there’s no tomorrow, torture random Muslims and crusade against gay people who dare to live a virtuous family life.
The utter collapse of any coherent platform for America’s longest-running political party is one of the tragedies of this young American century. Under the Republican banner, America was given the greatest statesman of the 19th century in Abraham Lincoln, the pioneer to the future in Theodore Roosevelt and the unprecedented peace and prosperity of Dwight Eisenhower. None of today’s prominent Republicans can hold a candle to those great leaders, much as they love to brag otherwise. John McCain may come closest, openly trying to emulate Teddy Roosevelt, but of course T.R. was a great friend to furry woodland creatures, whereas McCain’s wing lady wants to nail them to her wall.
The GOP does not need to hearken back a full 50 years to regain its footing. Last weekend I checked out Oliver Stone’s W., a biopic that attempts to explain the mystery that is President Bush. While the film confirmed most of the suspicions I wrote about two weeks ago ‘-‘- namely, that our dear leader is a meandering nincompoop undeserving of a movie ‘-‘- W. did contain a wonderfully dignified performance by James Cromwell as the president’s father, George H.W. Bush, a man whose own legacy grows in stature with each passing day of his son’s administration.
Sixteen years out, the senior George Bush strikes me as the last true Republican statesman. The 1988 ‘Willie Horton’ ads notwithstanding, Poppy Bush was not a craven creature of politics, he hired competent advisers to carry out policy ‘-‘- Bush himself was one of the most qualified men to run for high office ‘-‘- and doggone it, he won a well-managed war in the Middle East. You might be surprised to learn that when Obama is asked which former president’s policies he would adapt for his own foreign policy, he cites George H.W. Bush more than he cites anyone else.
I want those old Republicans back. I don’t know whether it would benefit me personally, since I’m independent and refuse to throw in with any ideological group, no matter how benevolent. However, as long as we’re stuck with these two imperfect parties, it is essential that they both function honestly, passionately and effectively.’ We need to hear both sides of the argument.
Hopefully the Democrats ‘-‘- a dysfunctional bunch in their own right ‘-‘- will get their act together by achieving their formidable majority and passing some meaningful legislation. But there is no question the Republicans have the tougher road ahead; it could take them many years to recover from the slaughter they all expect on Tuesday. Let’s wish them a successful re-organization, that they may become ‘grand’ once again.

Note:’ Be sure to vote on Tuesday, Nov. 4, if you have not done so already. Democracy is a wonderful thing, but it doesn’t work if the crooks in D.C. are the only ones doing their jobs.

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